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Footwear, snakes and revenge


In August, it will be four years since I bought my construction-worker boots. You know the kind--caramel-colored rawhide, rubber soles, stiff padded ankle collars.

Buying them was one of those close-the-barn-door things--they arrived in my closet directly after my copperhead encounter.

Wrapping up a steamy late-summer Sunday in 1999, I endeavored to settle our crazily energetic visiting rescue dog down for the night with a walk.

Tethered to 45 pounds of rambunctious canine, I set out the gate and down the stone walkway. Feeling something squishy ooze under my Birkies in the near-dark, I was musing that maybe our own dogs weren't as toilet-trained as we think when the one-fanged monster I was standing on struck.

Fascinated people probed for gory details later. Always heard copperhead bites hurt a lot --that true? Like a white-hot ice pick driven through skin and muscle down into the bone, and then wiggled around a little, I would reply.

The most productive empathy came from the ER nurse, who said (as he plunged a needle full of Vicadin, by then long overdue) into my IV drip bag, yep, that's the thing about copperheads, they don't generally kill you but they sure can hurt like hell. Now go to sleep.

In the four days before I walked again, I learned three central facts about snakebites. First, they don't give you anti-venom for copperhead strikes, unless you're very young or very old or otherwise more fragile than most folks tromping through the dry, rocky patches and cultured ivy beds that copperheads call home here in the Southern Part of Heaven. Modern-day treatment consists entirely of generous doses of pain meds and observation. Observation, as in, they watch to see how much of your skin turns black and falls off.

Secondly, it's much better to get bitten by a large, old snake than a small, young one, because they have less venom and more control over it.

And lastly, that one tiny puncture can hurt worse than blowing a ligament in your knee skiing or fielding a line-drive minor-league foul ball with only your jeans-clad thigh--two adventures in pain that heretofore topped my list.

As soon as I could walk again, I went boot shopping. Ever since then, I don my snake-proof boots before undertaking any activities in our yard, which is apparently, and quite unintentionally, very attractive to copperheads.

Last weekend, after planting some shrubs, I changed to sandals and left to run some errands. My husband emerged a few minutes later, absent-mindedly picking up the shovel I'd left out, meaning to put it away. And there, blocking his path between kitchen door and driveway, another copperhead basked in the sun on the warm slate.

Reliving the same panic that led to him to yell, "I'm not coming out there, I don't have any shoes on!" in response to my desperately bellowing, "I've been bitten by a snake, come and see what kind it is!" four years ago, he immediately cast around for something to defend himself with. Discovering he was still holding the shovel, he set about making large dents in the walkway as he chopped the intruder into several pieces.

Then he called me on my cell phone to warn me to watch my step when I got home.

I may never take my boots off again.

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